March 5, 2017
If there’s one mountain aside from the knife-edge trilogy that has intimidated me with its reputation, it has to be Mt. Balingkilat. Reading online blogs about this particular mountain has given me some doubt on my ability to climb it. From dry infernos in the summer to raging river crossings in the rainy season, the reputation of this mountain is noteworthy. So when I was invited to do a Cawag hexalogy that included this mountain, I gladly accepted to see what the fuss was all about.
The Cawag hexa consists of 6 peaks compressed into a dayhike, thus the “hexa” part. However, due to time constraints, the group was only able to do a Cawag penta. But after completing this circuit, I prefer to call this the Cawag Inferno. You will soon know why.
The group assembled at Centris before riding a private van to Zambales. Here we registered with the local police station and had our group picture taken for security reasons. After that, it was a short ride to the jumpoff where we secured our local guides. After a quick briefing, we set out to start the trek alongside a couple more groups of hikers. Time was 2am.
After a long walk through relatively flat terrain, we reached some ascents before emerging into the first water source at the foot of Mt. Balingkilat. It was still relatively early, but with only two 500ml bottles on hand, I refilled both of them before heading up. The ascent of Mt. Balingkilat was very very very nice. I actually had a lot of fun. It reminded me of the trails in Tarak and Batulao, two of my favorite mountains to climb. But I can also see the suffering one will endure if one decides to climb this mountain in daylight.
Slowly but surely we made our way up and as the cold winds hit us, we knew we were nearing the summit. We stopped at a small flat area where several tents were pitched. Here we decided to wait until daylight before continuing the hike to the summit. I was already freezing from the winds at the campsite so I can’t imagine the situation at the summit. We found a spot that blocked some parts of the wind and caught some sleep despite the shivers. Time was 5am.
Light seeped through the morning fog at around 6am and we started to climb up until we reached the first summit of the day. There was absolutely no clearing and it was absolutely cold so we got a quick group picture before heading down the traverse trail to the next peaks. As the winds died down, the fogs started to dissipate. Our descent gave us the wonderful view that Balingkilat had to offer. Nagsasa cove was stunning and we couldn’t resist getting pictures.
We continued the descent through rocky ridges and here I decided that Mt. Balingkilat is now my new favorite mountain. Forget all the things I’ve read online. The breathtaking ascent and the beautiful descent just made this mountain a winner. Finally, after a long climb down a loooong ridge, we got to the foot of Bira-bira peak. Here we got some sleep as we waited for the others.
The group decided to get some lunch at the foot of Mt. Dayungan so we hurried through Bira-bira peak and Naulaw peak which was marked by an antenna of some sort. To be honest I don’t think they’re really mountains as they look more like low ridges one had to traverse to get to Mt. Dayungan. After some rolling trails, we reached the river where a small water source was located. Here we had some lunch as well as more getting to know the other members of the group. Thank you, madam Khat, for the nutella and bread. After some rest and refilling of our water, we decided to push to the hottest part of the climb.
Mt.Dayungan was hot. So hot. After escaping the trees of the water source, it was open trails all the way. Here I was still doing okay as I was used to hiking under the heat, but some of my friends were already under their umbrellas or completely covered up with their garments. Mt. Dayungan is one of the three major ascents in this circuit, along with Mt. Balingkilat and Mt. Cinco Picos.
Slowly but surely and in the sweltering noontime heat, we climbed until we reached the top of the fourth peak. Two more to go! Here we took some pictures while getting some food in our bellies. Thank you, choco mucho. After a moment, we descended back to the junction where we reached a small campsite right before Cinco Picos. Here we got some solid sleep while waiting for the sunshine to get less intense.
After a short nap, we woke up and continued the hike to the next major climb. Despite the heat, we still maintained a good pace and I was still full of energy despite conserving most of my water. I forgot to mention but the last water source was the one where we had lunch at. Having only 1L of water, I did all I could to make it last. The climb to peak 2 of Cinco Picos was steep and dusty, but finally we reached the rocky summit. Here, we admired the views of Silanguin and Anawangin coves while recovering energy. After some photos, we descended.
We caught up with the rest of the group that stayed at peak 1 and we made our way down more ridges and valleys. The view here was amazing and Zambales really does have lots of humps and bumps that one could climb. The last mountain was Mt. Redondo, but with daylight fast running out, our group decided not to continue with the 6th peak. Time was already against us and our guides were also telling us not to continue.
Our group made our way down the traditional pentalogy trail which passed by a river. I was glad to finally see a water source. I refilled my bottles and drank so much of the water there. Thank God for natural water sources. The sun set as we made our way through forests and we resorted to our handheld lights. Thankfully there were no more life-threatening ascents or descents and it was just a long loooong walk through local trails and river crossings. After a tiring amount of time walking, we finally reached civilization and we passed through several local houses until we reached the familiar jumpoff.
We were one of the last groups to descend and there were other groups also waiting to get to the baths and fix up. Most of them were gunning for a penta climb and none of the groups planning to do the hexa actually completed it. This challenge needs way fewer resting times than we had. Maybe when i return here with more water stores, a hexa might be within reach.
After fixing ourselves up, it was the usual ride back to Manila where I fell asleep all the way. I didn’t have much energy left and the climb really drained me, but I was still happy that i participated in this workout. Upon reaching manila, Khat and I immediately ate a lot of McDonald’s to recover.
Special thanks to the wonderful group of people who accompanied me in this inferno dayhike. Madam Khat, as always. Dencio, Aggy, Sandrye the organizer, Adoboman, the Lasalistas, Alfer, Alfie, and the rest, including those who we met along the trail. I had a great time despite getting dehydrated. Maybe we can do this again during the rainy season. Push through with the hexa, maybe?
- As much as possible, climb Mt. Balingkilat before the sun rises. If you don’t want to get roasted, this is the top priority.
- Bring lots of water containers. At the jumpoff, our guide recommended 4-6L per person. I thought he was exaggerating, but with only 2 water sources along the trail and not even strategically placed, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Guideship here is not as good as in other mountains, our guides would sometimes leave our group to be with the other local guides and they wouldn’t really keep track of all the participants. All they would do is point you in the right direction and it’s up to you to follow. This is a bit lackluster for me considering the steep price they charge (P3,000) for a dayhike.
- Bring lots of food as well as there’s no stops or karinderyas along the way. Once you leave the jumpoff, you have to be self-sufficient until you return. And for our group, that was 17 hours away from civilization.
- Enjoy. This isn’t an easy climb, but the views of Zambales and the time spent with amazing people are absolutely worth it.
This climb wasn’t really difficult for me, but it was tremendously long and draining. The lack of water sources was definitely an added challenge and it did help me get used to hiking with minimum hydration. Not that I’d like to experience that thirst again. Next time I’ll definitely bring more water containers.
Shoutout to my Lasalista boy Rafa for finishing the hike even with the lack of hydration.